Helping Kids Appreciate The True Meaning of The Holidays

I am a lover of the holidays…big time. So much so, that I’m not sure who gets more excited about the tree trimming/gingerbread house decorating/wrapping of gifts/twinkle light ogling enterprise, me or the girlies. But what I really love is that the holidays afford an opportunity to slow down (hello winter break). So it saddens me that as my kids get older, the “slowing down” seems to get more difficult.

But I’m in luck, as this week, D Moms contributor Galit Birk, PhD helps us answer the question of how to slow down and help our littles appreciate the meaning of the holidays amidst all the commercial overload.


By Galit Birk, PhD

The holiday season is in full swing! Thanksgiving has come and gone, the beautiful lights are hanging, and even in Dallas (where it has been near 80 degrees this week) there is that feeling of winter around us. But there’s another way we can tell that the winter holidays are upon us. Think about it. What comes to mind when you think of Christmas or Hanukkah? Be it the iPad mini, the LeapPad2 Explorer, or this year’s Furby toy, there is an explicit focus on gifts when it comes to the holidays.

The commercial overload, which surrounds us all year long, is especially amplified during the holiday season emphasizing the year’s latest and greatest and the “must-haves” for the entire family. And who doesn’t like to get gifts?! Getting (and giving) gifts can be a wonderful tradition for the holidays. But are we slowing down enough to actually experience this tradition or unconsciously going through the motions? And what other traditions do we wish to pass onto our children this time of year? What do we want them to take away from the holidays aside from the hottest new toy?

I invite us all to take a step back and ask ourselves…what is the ‘true meaning’ of the holidays and what messages do we parents want to convey to our kids this time of year? As you read below I encourage you to examine your own values, to identify and define your own ‘true meaning’ of the holidays and then to create experiences to support it. I personally hope to shift the focus from consumption to contribution and to offer my son opportunities to experience both. Below are some things I will need to keep in mind as I challenge myself to do so among the commercial overload.

Be of Contribution: The holidays are a great time to expose our kids to the power of making a difference for others, to giving back to our communities, to being part of something larger than ourselves. We all know the meaning and value of giving and it is our challenge as parents today to pass this onto our kids who are so often “more high-tech than high-touch” (DeGaetano, 2004, p. 60). Acts of contribution can be within your family or in the larger community. It can be as small as children making homemade gifts for their grandparents or as big as a family trip to deliver food to the local Fire Department. Older kids can go with parents to children’s hospitals to give blankets or toys. Whatever you choose, remember that talking about giving is not enough. There has to be follow-through, modeling, and action to support the learning.

Mindfully Give and Receive Gifts: This is a tough one because the media generated culture has ingrained in many of our kids that the holidays are all about getting gifts – lots of gifts, big gifts, must-have gifts – and they often go through the motions of unwrapping gift after gift rarely present to the experience itself. First there is the issue of gift overload, or consumption, and I encourage parents (myself included) to minimize it or at least find ways to control it.

We parents mean well and children love opening gifts but gift overload can actually be overwhelming and distracting to children and they can never play with all those gifts at once anyway! Choose a few special gifts or control the pace in which gifts are received over a period of days. Parents with younger children can also take the time to talk about the gifts as they are opened, so as to slow down the pace and bring more presence and awareness to the experience. What do you like about this gift? What are some things you can do with it? Next there is the issue of participation: encourage kids of all ages to call to say thank you or write (or draw) personal thank you cards to close the loop on the receiving experience. As for giving, encourage children to participate by either helping to pick something out at the store or making something personal for a friend or family member – noting that it’s not about how much the gift cost or whether is was on Oprah’s list of 2012 favorites but rather that it came from the heart with great thought and care.

Practice Appreciation: There is no better time than during the holiday season for parents and kids alike to explore and talk about all they are grateful for. This is a great practice year round but especially relevant during the holidays when we are bombarded with messages of consumption. It helps us to slow down and bring awareness to all that we already have, both material and otherwise, and to recognize those who do not have and whom we might be able to help. This should be done as a family so that kids can experience modeling from their parents or older siblings. You can ask holiday-specific questions such as ‘what’s one thing you appreciate this holiday, are thankful for, or makes you happy?’ You can encourage younger children to draw pictures of what they are thankful for and older children to list one thing they could do for someone in need. After the holidays you might incorporate an appreciation practice or ritual such as my friend’s “mad, sad, glad” in which all family members provide one of each every day at dinner, encouraging healthy expression of feelings, mindfulness and opportunity for family connection.

I wish you all a happy holiday season filled with opportunities for both giving and receiving – gifts, love, and joy. As with anything else, find the balance!

Happy Parenting,


Galit Birk, PhD is a PCI Certified Parent Coach® who walks others through parenting with wisdom and grace in her private practice CORE Parent Coaching.